The Oregonian/OregonLive, OPB and ProPublica Win 2021 John B. Oakes Award | Columbia Journalism School
A red truck carrying a bed of logs rolls along a road with a green building and pine tree
A log truck rolls through Falls City, Oregon. Credit: Beth Nakamura/The Oregonian

The Oregonian/OregonLive, OPB and ProPublica Win 2021 John B. Oakes Award

Honoring Outstanding Environmental Reporting for 25 Years

The Oregonian/OregonLive, Oregon Public Broadcasting and ProPublica have won the 2021 John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism for their eye-opening investigative series “The Cutting: Investigating Industrial Logging in Oregon. An examination of three decades of tax and logging records, as well as digital engagement with more than 600 Oregonians, allowed journalists Rob Davis of The Oregonian/Oregon Live, Tony Schick of OPB and Lylla Younes of ProPublica to defy conventional thinking and uncover a startling fact. They learned that tax cuts granted to Wall Street-controlled private forests cost many rural counties far more money than the reduction of logging on federal land. The team’s investigation revealed how state lawmakers and timber executives worked together to drive up profits with little consideration or accountability for the irreparable damage done to local residents.

The two Finalists for the 2021 Oakes Award are: ProPublica and The New York Times for “Where Will Everyone Go?” and NPR’s Invisibilia for “Two Heartbeats A Minute.” Both finalists feature climate-related stories. 

For the first time in the award’s 25-year history, audio reporting will be honored by the Oakes Jury. In another first, ProPublica will be honored twice: as one of the three news organizations behind the Oakes Award-winning series “The Cutting” and for one of the two 2021 finalist awards, “Where Will Everyone Go?”.

More about the 2021 Oakes Finalists:

  • Making the audience care about what may happen in the future is the central challenge of reporting about climate change. In the series “Where Will Everyone Go?”, Abrahm Lustgarten of ProPublica, in partnership with The New York Times Magazine and the Pulitzer Center, consults with leading climate scientists to create a model for how people will move in response to rising global temperatures and increasingly dangerous weather events.  
  • “Two Heartbeats a Minute,” Alix Spiegel's engaging and expertly reported podcast from NPR’s Invisibilia, delves into topics such as animal language, artificial intelligence, global warming and existential fright and hope. It's a must-listen for anyone pondering the future of our planet and our role in its fate.

The 2021 Oakes Award winners and finalists will be honored on Mon., Sept. 20. The Oregonian/OregonLine, OPB and ProPublica team will receive a $5,000 honorarium, and each finalist will receive a $1,500 honorarium. 

Given annually for news reporting that makes an exceptional contribution to the public’s understanding of environmental issues, the Oakes Award was founded in 1993 by family, friends and colleagues of John B. Oakes (1913-2001). Oakes was an environmental journalism pioneer and an editorial writer for The New York Times. 

 

2021 John B. Oakes Prize Winner and Finalist Citations

lone tree on a hill
A tree left for wildlife after industrial clearcutting in Oregon's Coast Range. Credit: Beth Nakamura, The Oregonian

WINNER: The Oregonian/OregonLive, OPB and ProPublica 
“The Cutting: Investigating Industrial Logging in Oregon”
Journalists: Rob Davis, Tony Schick and Lylla Younes 

Judges Citation: It’s one of those truisms that turned out not to be true: For decades, politicians, timber executives and loggers made the northern spotted owl the “poster bird” for the decline of the lumber business — and therefore, the destruction of the economies of Oregon’s small towns. Repetition became acceptance of the narrative that federal government overreach, elite urban environmentalists and the Endangered Species Act conspired to wound Oregon’s most important industry and the livelihoods of the people who depended on it.

“The Cutting,” an eye-opening investigation by the Oregonian/Oregon Live, Oregon Public Broadcasting and ProPublica turns this truism on its head. An examination of three decades of tax and logging records, as well as digital engagement with more than 600 Oregonians, allowed journalists Rob Davis, Tony Schick and Lylla Younes to uncover a startling fact: Tax cuts granted to Wall Street-controlled private forests cost many rural counties far more money than the reduction of logging on federal land. In other words, private logging is booming — but it doesn’t pay the bills.

The investigation caused an outcry in Oregon, and lawmakers are re-examining forest and tax policies as a result. Twenty-eight bills were filed in the legislature, including those to restore timber tax revenue to local communities. The results are yet to come, but this accessible story, illustrated with understandable graphics and strong photography, makes the problems clear. As one Oregonian is memorably quoted: “Holy cannoli. The old adage that ‘what is good for the timber industry is good for Oregon’ is no longer true.”

A group of women and children carry jugs and 2-liter soda bottles of water in a lush and mountainous landscape
The river that once flowed through the Nuevo Paraiso Indigenous community is now just a stream. Residents depend on it for all their water needs and are afraid it will completely dry up soon. Credit: Meridith Kohut, The New York Times Magazine

FINALIST: ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine 
“Where Will Everyone Go?”
Journalists: Abraham Lustgarten, ProPublica, Photography by Meridith Kohut for The New York Times Magazine

Judges Citation: “The Great Climate Migration: A Warming Planet and a Shifting Population” is among the most ambitious environmental journalism projects of 2020. Making the audience care about what may happen in the future is the central challenge of reporting about climate change. In this series, Abrahm Lustgarten of ProPublica, in partnership with The New York Times Magazine and the Pulitzer Center, consults with leading climate scientists to create a model for how people will move in response to rising global temperatures and increasingly dangerous weather events. With a compelling interactive map showing the predicted impact of climate migration on the US and other parts of the world, accompanied by riveting storytelling about families already on the move, this series makes a formidable contribution to public understanding of a story that touches everyone.

illustration of ocean waves with water animals and the lower part of a woman's face floating on it

FINALIST: NPR’s Invisibilia
“Two Heartbeats a Minute”
Journalist: Alix Spiegel

Judges Citation: There are pieces of journalism that can shed light on information that makes the audience angry. Or filled with dread. Or happy. Or desperately sad. Or smarter for having listened or read. Yet, rarely does one piece weave together all of these emotions and responses expertly, deftly and engagingly. Alix Spiegel's Invisibilia podcast "Two Heartbeats a Minute" is that rainbow unicorn — delving into topics such as animal language, artificial intelligence, global warming and existential fright and hope. It's a must-listen for anyone pondering the future of our planet and our role in its fate.

About Columbia Journalism School

For more than a century, the Columbia Journalism School has been preparing journalists in programs that stress academic rigor, ethics, journalistic inquiry and professional practice. Founded with a gift from Joseph Pulitzer, the school opened in 1912 and offers Master of Science, Master of Arts, Master of Science in Data Journalism, a joint Master of Science degree in Computer Science and Journalism, The Knight-Bagehot Fellowship in Economics and Business Journalism and a Doctor of Philosophy in Communications. It houses the Columbia Journalism Review, the Brown Institute for Media Innovation, The Tow Center for Digital Journalism, The Ira A. Lipman Center for Journalism and Civil and Human Rights and the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. The school also administers many of the leading journalism awards, including the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, the Maria Moors Cabot Prizes, the John Chancellor Award, the John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism, Dart Awards for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma, Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award, the Mike Berger Awards and the WERT Prize for Women Business Journalists. Journalism.columbia.edu

Contact:
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